'Wire Service Guild, UPI Reach Pact'

Here's a story by George Garneau from the June 4, 1988 edition of Editor & Publisher:


The Wire Service Guild and United Press International have agreed tentatively on a contract after over a year of changing management and troubled labor relations.

The proposed one-year contract includes major concessions from the last union contract, but is easier on the union than work rules UPI imposed last November after it unilaterally declared an impasse.

The deal reached May 24 was cut with a new union negotiating team in one extraordinary session following the resignation of previous negotiators in a bitter intraunion dispute after 15 months of frustrating talks with the financially troubled news service.

It took the unprecedented intervention of Charles Dale, president of the Wire Service Guild's parent union, The Newspaper Guild, to break the deadlock.

At a May 24 session with UPI at the Newspaper Guild's international headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., Dale agreed to give up the "agency shop" rule requiring all union-represented UPI workers to pay union dues.

WSG president Kevin Keane said the proposed contract "serves members, the union and the company and is the best possible agreement available to UPI employees at this time."

While "not happy" losing the agency shop rule, Keane said, "I believe the union can survive without it."

Dan Carmichael, part of the union negotiating team that quit May 12 after accusing union leaders of betrayal, called the proposal "an out-and-out sellout."

Maintaining that the proposal was what he quit over and that it is "essentially" the same as company-imposed work rules, he said, "It is my firm belief that the day this tentative agreement is signed, if it is signed, it will go down in history as the beginning of the destruction of UPI as we have known it."

He predicted "a major political battle" over ratification.

Keane, calling criticisms "just not true" and "a lot of smoke," said differences were "major" between UPI work rules and the proposed contract, which "restores employee job security."

According to a UPI story, Bill Small, a new union negotiator, said, "This is not great. It stinks, but vote for it."

UPI chairman Dr. Earl Brian said in a statement the agreement "would allow UPI to move toward a sound and stable financial future."

The tentative pact:

** Recognizes union jurisdiction over worked performed by UPI.

** Allows UPI to contract for work, but restrictions require union negotiation.

** Restores union "checkoff," or payroll deduction, for members' $40 monthly dues.

** Ends the union's rights of first refusal to buy UPI stock and two seats on UPI's board of directors.

** Ends the evergreen clause extending contracts after expiration.

** Gives up union use of the message wire.

** Ends union complaints to the National Labor Relations Board.

** Restores burden of proof to company to prove incompetence before firing; ends "kangaroo court," a management-appointed board created in work rules to approve firing for "incompetence."

** Accepts previously announced pay hikes, largely to senior news employees, whose base pay rises to $670 a week in November.

** Formalizes an end to waivers to be signed by workers to collect severance pay.

A ratification vote has not been scheduled.

Only members whose dues are paid -- estimated to be as few as 200 because UPI's ending dues checkoffs has hurt union finances -- can vote.

WSG represents about 625 UPI workers. Several hundred layoffs and resignations have thinned UPI ranks from about 850 in November.

The former negotiating committee resigned, with other union leaders quitting in sympathy, to protest the WSG executive board's withdrawal of support for their hard-line stand. They accused the board of bowing to Associated Press representatives trying to save money for their negotiations.

Keane defended the agreement for strengthening job security. He said limits to subcontractors was "a major step forward. It's the difference between life and death."

Keane said off of the "evergreen" clause continuing contracts after expiration was minor because the law obligates employers to extend contracts anyway. WSG's Associated Press employees have no such clause.

Keane said rights of first refusal to buy UPI stock and two seats on UPI's board -- concessions granted by Mario Vazquez Rana, the Mexican publisher who bought UPI from bankruptcy in 1986 -- were "questionable."

The board seats were not effective, he said, and former negotiators' "scorched earth" plans to tie up recapitalization efforts in court could hurt the company.

He said the union survived without agency shop rule for 50 years. It was won in 1983 and is enforceable in 28 states without right-to-work laws.

Dale of the Newspaper Guild, acknowledging the agency shop was a "key" issue, noted, "There comes a time in every negotiation when you've got to be very pragmatic. It just wasn't there at the table."

Dale asserted "a time of peace" was needed for UPI employees and management and that a contract was need for the company to survive.